The mood outside the arrival hall of the Chennai International Airport was festive as soon as dawn broke on Wednesday as the city awaited the arrival of chess whizz kid R. Praggnanandhaa.
The welcome party had everything in place, from banners extolling his feats to heavy percussion music and trumpets belting out old film songs with folk dance artists braving the heat and humidity of Chennai to create an atmosphere of revelry.
A massive gathering of people, including government officials, students from his school Velammal Vidyalaya and a seizable media contingent had gathered to accord a hero’s reception to the 18-year-old who took the chess world by storm last week as he finished runner-up to Magnus Carlsen in the FIDE World Cup 2023.
As soon as he emerged from the hall, the teenage sensation was mobbed by his adoring fans and showered with rose petals, bouquets, and shawls, with everyone wanting a piece of the youngster as he gingerly escorted to his vehicle by the security officials.
“It feels great to see so many people turn up here, and it is very good for chess,” said Praggnanandhaa as he waved the national flag from an open-top car that had a specialised livery arranged by the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu with his face and his recent achievement.
The youngster from Chennai had a sensational time in Baku, Azerbaijan, in which he had some big scalps, including Fabiano Caruana in the semifinals, as he became the first Indian to reach the finals of the FIDE World Cup in its current avatar that started in 2005.
The silver medal at the event also ensured the Grand Master a place in the Candidates event next year, where eight players will fight for a chance to take on current world championship holder Ding Liren in 2024.
Even as he soaked in adulation on arrival in the country, the youngster doesn’t have a lot of time to celebrate it as he now heads to Kolkata for the Asian Games camp conducted by GM Boris Gelfand before participating in the Tata Steel Chess India tournament next week.
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